The centre thrice postponed meetings to discuss stubble burning, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told NDTV today. Mr Sisodia said a meeting requested by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was postponed three times by the Environment Ministry - once on the phone and twice by email. It was never rescheduled, he added. The comments came a day after the Supreme Court pulled up the centre and Delhi governments for failing to control pollution levels. "This can't happen in a civilised country... there is passing of buck", the top court said.
"In September Chief Minister Kejriwal wrote to (Union Environment Minister) Prakash Javadekar-ji, saying pollution from farm waste is expected to affect Delhi soon. Please formulate a plan to protect Delhi, and the whole of India. Three meetings were scheduled and each time it was postponed," Manish Sisodia said this morning.
Air pollution levels in Delhi have skyrocketed over the past week, with sensors across the national capital recording Air Quality Indexes (AQIs) of 999 on Sunday morning; anything above 500 is considered extremely harmful to health.
Mr Kejriwal has repeatedly blamed polluted air from illegal farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for the problem. The Delhi government has pointed out the centre has not fully supported farmers stop burning stubble - only 63,000 machines have been given for 27 lakh farmers, it has said. In turn, Mr Javadekar accused the Chief Minister of "politicising" the issue and failing to control pollution within Delhi.
On Monday, the Supreme Court took notice of Delhi's pollution crisis after a report by the Environment Pollution (Control & Prevention) Authority (EPCA), which declared a public health emergency in Delhi last week.
The court highlighted two concerns - the illegal burning of farm waste and the efficacy of the 'odd-even' road-rationing scheme, which was reimposed by the Delhi government in a bid to control pollution levels. It has been criticised for excluding diesel vehicles and two-wheelers; BJP leader Vijay Goel led a symbolic protest on Monday.
Mr Sisodia defended the 'odd-even' scheme today, pointing out it takes 15 lakh private cars off the streets and said that on Monday nearly 100 per cent of people followed the rules.
"'Odd-even' is an emergency measure... we must take steps to make people's lives better. Number of two-wheelers is so high that if they start using public transport, the system will crash. Delhi government is taking 360-degree view and we think this is a good compromise," Mr Sisodia told NDTV, adding, when asked about Mr Goel's protest and the AAP and the BJP working together, "I would like to ask Vijay Goel-ji if he can talk to Javadekar-ji about his concerns too".
"This (criticism from the centre) is a political game. Fight against pollution is long-term and we're taking one step at a time - reducing firecrackers, 'odd-even', removing six lakh diesel generators. You cannot take just one step and say doing this will not solve anything," the Deputy Chief Minister said, responding to the criticism from the centre and neighbouring states.
Mr Sisodia also welcomed the Supreme Court's orders - directing the centre and Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to work together to find a permanent solution to stubble burning.
"If the honourable Supreme Court had not made yesterday's verdict, then all of N India - not just Delhi - would continue to suffer. It is good that all parties - AAP from Delhi, there is one Congress government and two BJP governments and the centre - will discuss together," he said.
"I think we can win this war on pollution," he added.